Amman, Jordan, November 5, 2023 — The world’s attention has been increasingly focused on the death, destruction and displacement in Israel and Gaza for the last four weeks. The events are unprecedented and the suffering is enormous. Our only interest is the lives of civilians, and how we can help them survive fighting that is increasingly intense and deadly. At the moment, that means focusing on Gaza, where more than 2 million Palestinian civilians face peril and disaster every day. The Secretary General of the UN calls this a “humanitarian catastrophe”. This is accurate.
There is an imperative to reduce the death and suffering of the civilian Palestinian population in Gaza. We have a team on the ground in Egypt and are trying to work with partners to deliver supplies and provide bespoke and specialist support in fields of health, water and sanitation, child and women’s protection and psycho-social interventions. However, the barriers to access, caused by the fighting and by a slow, complex clearance system at Rafah crossing and the dangerous lack of fuel have reduced aid flows to a trickle both into and around Gaza. There are approximately 700 truckloads of aid still awaiting processing – but the slow clearance process, the shortage of fuel and destruction of roads and infrastructure within Gaza are challenges which require multiple days to overcome. Reports suggest only four of 70 organizations operating in Gaza before this escalation are maintaining some activities.
That is why for three weeks there have been growing calls, including from us, for fighting to stop to allow aid to flow, the injured to leave, hostage negotiations and release to take place, and civilian protection measures to be put in place to curb unacceptable levels of civilian harm and suffering. Different words are being used to describe this. The US government and others have called these “humanitarian pauses”. The UN has termed these calls “humanitarian ceasefire”.
The words are less important than the substance. What matters is that they are given concrete meaning. However, that has not yet been done, and that is the purpose of this statement.
A halt to the fighting must be meaningful to be impactful. Meaningful and impactful in this context means continuous flow of aid, massively scaled-up in volume, with safe passage for aid workers and civilians, and ongoing delivery of fuel, water and electricity supplies to make possible effective aid delivery. This in turn requires coverage of the whole of Gaza, commitment of all parties, monitoring by the UN, and streamlined and eased clearance process for goods and people. Above all, it requires sufficient duration: the operational agencies have made clear that stopping for a few hours will not allow anything substantive to be achieved.
In order to urgently alleviate suffering a “humanitarian ceasefire” needs to include:
- The free movement of humanitarian supplies into Gaza (from Egypt and Israel) under the authority of the UN, to be delivered impartially by humanitarian agencies. This should include water, medical supplies, food, non-food items (NFIs) such as shelter and dignity kits for women, and the space to provide vital protection services. This supply should be based solely on assessed humanitarian need, and free from interference - including regular transfers of fuel which is necessary for the distribution of assistance and ability to continue providing vital services, particularly healthcare.
- The free and safe movement of humanitarian personnel is essential for the delivery and monitoring of aid flows. Humanitarian staff need to be able to reach those in need. In addition, they must be able to work to prevent diversion of aid and safeguard the civilian character of humanitarian work.
- The free and safe movement and gathering of civilians to access humanitarian aid and services (to include child safe spaces, education activities, emergency health including mental health and other specialized services, for example for women and girls).
- The evacuation of the sick and the wounded within or out of the territory, alongside additional measures for the protection of civilians in accordance with International Humanitarian Law, including safe passage of civilians who wish to flee. These guarantees should account for the fact some may not have, or have access to, required documentation. Routes of movement should be identified, communicated, and be safe from attack. In all cases, the right to return must be guaranteed in advance.
- Attention to the plight of the hostages. The IRC continues to call for the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages, also in accord with International Humanitarian Law, with safe passage of released hostages to Israel.
- A period of time long enough to allow the above to happen - for aid to reach those who need it, systems of humanitarian aid and service delivery to be re-established and scaled up, and the other measures to be completed. The evidence on the ground is that this needs to be a minimum of five days.
To be clear, this approach is the minimum to address immediate needs, and far from the ceiling of ambition to reduce the suffering of civilians and protect their interests, in accord with their rights in international humanitarian law. But today this minimum is not being met and it is vital that it is established as soon as possible.
This conflict has plumbed new depths of horror. The attack by Hamas on Israel on October 7th was reprehensible and horrific. The humanitarian situation in Gaza today is deplorable and deteriorating fast. Civilians are bearing the brunt of this conflict and must be protected.